Swimming in the river is not the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Teaching English as a foreign language, but sure enough, last Friday, the students of Hoi Ku Pah and I went for a not-so-quick dip in the river that runs alongside the school.
I love this school for many reasons, and this is but one.
Unlike the other two schools I teach in, it is a little more remote, set further into the mountains. The school is smaller and entirely Karen as a result, perhaps 40 students at most across six Primary School classes.
Thai school is pretty relaxed at the best of times, but if it is possible, this is the most relaxed of the three I am in. It is an unbelievably enjoyable place to spend time. Both the teachers and the students have made me feel ridiculously welcomed and it is the highlight of my week.
I go every Friday. In the mornings I teach the lowest three classes, aged around 6-9 and in the afternoon I teach those in the top three, ages 9-12.
It can be hard work, as the lessons are at least two hours long, sometimes three. and the kids are normally completely overexcited. However, they also kind and helpful and I really enjoy teaching here.
The English level in this school is very low, and helps to explain why the range of ability in the Matteyum is so extreme (as it takes secondary students from 5 or more local Pretoms and only one of these has an English teacher). Even with the older students, it is difficult to get past simple words and sentences in the present tense.
Having said this, it does make my job easy, as I can easily tailor games to learning new words. It is much harder to think of games that involve sentence structure and are still fun!
It is rare to have a “normal” day here. I have been taken to party preparation instead of teaching, gone to coffee shops before the end of school (although after I had finished teaching) and joined Scout Camp for an afternoon. Schoolwork here is as likely to involve watering the vegetables and building furniture as it does Maths and Science (in fact I’m not sure how much science features in any of the schools I am in!).
To an English person with a British education, schooling here can at first seem haphazard and ineffective. I have been prone on more than one occasion to wondering why school works here the way it does.
However, the longer I stay the more I realise how practical their education is. They learn to cook and clean and grow vegetables and fruit. They learn how to make their own decorations, their own buildings and furniture from a young age, all of which are things that they will almost certainly use later in life. Everything they do at school contributes to their home environment and much of it is equipping students for a life in the mountains. Even swimming in the river promotes cleanliness, something many people here still have little understanding of.